Chicagoan Arlene Limas competed in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She fought in the welterweight category for Taekwondo.
As the 2016 Olympics get underway in Rio de Janeiro, Limas took a look back at her Olympic moment and how a mistake made it even more special.
It was the debut of the sport in the Olympics.
“When Korea was selected to host the Olympic games in Seoul. They brought in their national sport, which was Taekwondo,” Limas said. “You know when you’re fighting Korea in Korea, you’re going to have to do extra. That was just how it was then. That’s who dominated our sport.”
The final gold medal match was against a Korean athlete. At that time, no one could see how judges were scoring while the fight was in progress.
“I thought I fought well enough to win. I thought I had scored more points. I thought I had dominated the fight, but really not until my hand was raised, did I know,” she said.
This of course was a dream come true for Limas. She’s on the international stage; an American who had just won gold in a sport that wasn’t expected. The sound of a victory in the Olympics is usually accompanied by an athlete’s national anthem. But not on this day in 1988.
“The flags were almost completely raised, and I’m on the podium, and no music,” she recalled.
The silence didn’t last long.
“The U.S. has a huge military contingency in Seoul, and a lot of them were in the stands. They were spectators. So we just started singing. My family started singing and I followed their lead and we just started singing and it was awesome.”
Limas said she’s heard a couple of theories behind why the national anthem didn’t play right away. One was that there were just technical difficulties.
“But I’ve also heard from reputable people that they just assumed Korea would win that match and they didn’t have the anthem ready,” she said.
Limas says she didn’t mind.
“I don’t know any other athlete that had their national anthem sung and then played because eventually it did start. So I actually got to hear my anthem twice,” she said.
Limas went on to win gold in other competitions, including at the World Taekwondo Championships. Her fighting days are over, but now she’s a coach in Virginia. She won’t be going to Rio this year but she hopes to see the Olympics again through one of her athletes.